The Tennessee Titans will be hungry for a playoff berth in 2014.
Following their third losing season in five years, the Titans are desperate to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008. With a new head coach in Ken Whisenhunt running the show and the second-easiest schedule on tap in terms of opponents 2013 win percentage (.438), Tennessee will have an excellent chance to do just that.
They'll do so without a familiar face, as longtime Titan Chris Johnson is now with the New York Jets. The team also parted ways with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kenny Britt, Alterraun Verner and Damian Williams.
Those departures will create opportunities for other players, however, and with a new head coach in place, 2014 offers a sense of hope, optimism and new directions.
Below is a full breakdown of the Titans' 2014 regular-season schedule (via NFL.com):
|2014 Tennessee Titans Regular-Season Schedule|
|1||September 7||at Kansas City||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|2||September 14||vs. Dallas||1:00 p.m.||Fox|
|3||September 21||at Cincinnati||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|4||September 28||at Indianapolis||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|5||October 5||vs. Cleveland||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|6||October 12||vs. Jacksonville||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|7||October 19||at Washington||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|8||October 26||vs. Houston||1:00 p.m.||Fox|
|10||November 9||at Baltimore||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|11||November 17||vs. Pittsburgh||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|12||November 23||at Philadelphia||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|13||November 30||at Houston||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|14||December 7||vs. New York Giants||1:00 p.m.||Fox|
|15||December 14||vs. New York Jets||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|16||December 18||at Jacksonville||8:25 p.m.||NFLN|
|17||December 28||vs. Indianapolis||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
If the Titans are going to record double-digit wins or have a shot at the playoffs in 2014, they're going to have to find a way to win within the division, especially against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans. Tennessee went 2-2 against its two AFC rivals in 2013 and lost two game to the Indianapolis Colts to finish 2-4 against the league's worst division.
To put it simply, the Titans will have to be much better against the AFC South this season in order to have any hope of making a postseason run.
Outside of the division, Tennessee will play the AFC North, the NFC East, the Chiefs from the AFC West and the Jets from the AFC East. The Jets game will mark the return of CJ2K, so this will certainly be a game both fans and players will be excited to see.
However, all eight of Tennessee's home games are winnable, with only Indianapolis having won more than eight games in 2013. The Titans' other seven home opponents combined to go 41-71. According to ESPN.com, Tennessee's home opponent 2013 win percentage is .406, the worst of any team in the league.
Football writer Benjamin Steefel puts Tennessee's home slate in perspective:
Tennessee's favorable schedule, combined with the hiring of Whisenhunt and a slew of free-agent signings, have many within the Titans organization excited for 2014. General manager Ruston Webster is certainly looking forward to the Whisenhunt era in Nashville, per TitansOnline.com:
I look for this to be a really fine marriage. Ken is an outstanding offensive coach, but also an outstanding head coach. He has a background with several successful franchises, and we look forward to a new day and creating a new culture with the Tennessee Titans.
It's certainly not hard to see why front-office folks are optimistic. After all, the last time the Titans were suiting up for playoff football, Whisenhunt was leading the Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII.
With an established NFL head coach leading the way and one of the league's easiest paths to the playoffs, anything short of a postseason berth in 2014 will be a disappointment for Tennessee.
If the Titans want to be competitive in the AFC South, they have to make a statement against the defending division champion Colts in 2014. Beating Indianapolis at home would allow Tennessee to take a big step in what many would consider to be a winnable division.
It's no secret that Indy has had Tennessee's number of late, but if the Titans are able to reverse the trend this coming fall and reel off wins against Houston and Jacksonville, they could contend for a wild-card spot.
The Baltimore game will also be a crucial contest. The Ravens are no longer the defending champions, but that doesn't mean it's suddenly easy to win in Baltimore. For a team looking to challenge in the AFC like the Titans and in a division that figures to boast multiple playoff hopefuls, earning a hard-fought victory behind enemy lines against a recent Super Bowl champion would be monumental.
Conference road games at Cincinnati and Kansas City will be critical as well, but neither of those teams has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy within the past two seasons, making the Ravens contest a good measurement for Tennessee.
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